The Origins of QAnon

podcast Sep 16, 2020

This week, Jeff interviews the hosts of the Conspirituality podcast – Derek Beres, Julian Walker, and Matthew Remski – on the white nationalist and anti-Semitic origins of the QAnon movement and how it uses the heart-wrenching issue of child sex trafficking as a recruitment tool. The conversation also covers how weaponized misinformation on social media is creating extremism and how we can support and talk with friends and colleagues who may be influenced by misleading content.


Jeff:  The majority of my adult life has been inside of the wellness community, or in the wellness space. Virtually all my friends and colleagues and people I admire come from that space. Yoga practitioners, meditators, spiritual and personal development seekers, authors, writers. I think it's fair to largely categorize this community of people as curious, tolerant, loving, and from, I suppose, a sociopolitical perspective generally think of this community as progressive, a community that espouses human rights, notions of equality, certainly sustainability, social justice. So it was unnerving to me, and perhaps to many others, about six months ago when we really entered COVID lock down, to start to see my social media feeds inundated with hosts from this community that were espousing many of the theories that are typically associated with the alt right. And we'll get into what many of those theories are today in this episode.

Jeff: By extension, there was an increasing fealty, or support, within this community of Donald Trump, which seems an anachronistic. Over the last six months, I think it's fair to say that this trend, on social media particularly, but also offline, has continued to blossom. The three guests on the show today were amongst the first to, I would say, astutely witness this trend and launched a podcast called conspirituality, which I have found to be articulate and enlightening and embrace a rigor for fact and science. I highly encourage everyone listening today to tune into that podcast called Conspirituality. I'm honored today to have the three founders and hosts of that show to join me and to talk about this phenomenon in some great depth. So welcome to Derek Barris, Matthew Rescue and Julian Walker. Thank you guys for being here.

Derek: Thanks for having us [crosstalk 00:03:32] .

Matthew: Thank you Jeff.

Jeff: So I think would love to start with just a broad overview for the sake of giving us some background on what is conspirituality and maybe Derek, if you would be kind enough to take this one?

Derek: Sure. Earlier this year, I read an article by a British philosopher named Jules Evans on medium, who was talking about this term conspirituality and about the overlapping of conspiracy theories with the wellness community and people in the left and how it was merging with the right. And it turns out that that came from a 2011 paper by David Voss and Charlotte Ward. So I went back and I read the paper, published article on big think about the topic. And then that eventually led to our podcast because I've known Julian and Matthew for many years. And we've all been critical in certain capacities of the wellness, the broader wellness community, where we see that they were having issues between what they espoused and either how they lived, or what science was actually saying to the best that we know.

Derek: Now, with conspirituality specifically the paper, they bring up their three things from the paper I want to address, which is first off, it is this melding of left and right, because if you look at reality, it's really more of a circle than a line as a graph, as it is anyway. So there are overlapping ideologies and they had found three principles that were in nearly every conspiracy theory, which is, nothing happens by accident. Nothing is, as it seems and everything is connected. And those ideas work in conspiracy theories, but they also were very much part of the modern incarnation of the wellness industry. And the other two points that interested me about this paper were first off with conspiracy theories is that conspiracy theorists seem to be primarily a white male phenomenon. And what's interesting about what we're watching now is that's actually not the case. It is still predominantly a white phenomenon in America, but what's so fascinating about QAnon and where we've gone with the current incarnation of conspiracy reality is that it is almost predominantly female and we'll get into those topics as we progress. I'm sure.

Derek: And the other thing that jumped out and we actually, Julian talked about Zach Bush extensively in yesterday's episode, but they write that conspirituality appears to be a means by which political cynicism is tempered with spiritual optimism. And I referenced Bush because he's someone who I think really encapsulates that, but that is where we find ourselves right now in the situation of a pandemic and having to, what I feel people who have been politically checked out for a long time are then trying to figure out, Oh my God! All of a sudden, why am I sheltering at home? Why am I being told for the first time in my life that I can't do something? And when they try to find out information about it, they turn to their social media feeds like Facebook and Instagram to where they usually go. And that's where they're getting their political information.

Derek: And if you are not schooled or educated in critical thinking in any capacity, you're going to go down these rabbit holes that are fed by the algorithms. And so conspirituality is really just this fusion of the wellness industry. Having not had that firm of a grip, and of course, I'm speaking broadly here. There are many people in it that are more critical thinkers, but not having a firm political and socioeconomic grasp. All of a sudden being fed these ideologies that feed into their greater worldview of everything being connected and nothing is as it seems. And so QAnon was just perfectly set up waiting there for them to be indoctrinated into.

Jeff: Yeah.Thank you. I think it's impossible to have this conversation without talking at some length about social media and how it has transformed influencers into news people to some degree, or I would say as vectors for the propagation of information without, as you say, any kind of training and critical thinking or any particular journalistic code of ethics. But before we get into sort of, I would call the failings of social media, which is a topic that warrants many, many podcasts. I think it would be great just to get a broad background of QAnon, since that in some ways seems to be the elephant in the virtual room. If you will, Matthew You want to take that one?

Matthew: Yeah. So thanks, And thanks Derek, that was really informative. And QAnon, here's a primer and the subject matter is really complex and triggering. And that's actually part of the problem, those, that combination of things, it's difficult to get a grasp on the whole, but I've made a few notes here and I'll walk through it pretty slowly. And the first thing that I propose is that, the elements that Derek describes in spirituality, we might think of them coalescing into a kind of country, but then it's one of many countries that border the kingdom of QAnon. And I would say that people are immigrating to QAnon through the alt-right, the intellectual dark web through white nationalism movements, through evangelicalism, through survivalism, and also from conspirituality, and in the most intense incarnations we're seeing them immigrate to QAnon from a resurgence of old school fascism as the recent demonstrations in Germany made clear.

Matthew: Now these metaphorical countries all have their languages and values. They're often conflicting, but once folks cross the border into the land of QAnon, they find common cause through a very intense mythology, but also a gaming process that is highly structured. It's charged with dopamine and it's also highly changeable and adaptable. So here's the highly structured part. QAnon refers to nameless Dave OTs of Q, who is thought to be an anonymous mole or a small network of mole. Some people believe that it's six people. Some people believe that it's twelve, but however many Q's there are, they're all lodged deep within the deep state. And from that vantage point, they post cryptic messages about how Donald Trump is secretly working to destroy a cabal of pedophiles who both traffic and breed children to abuse. So again, trigger warnings here, the abuse, isn't just puriant.

Matthew: According to the mythology, countless children are abused so that their bodies will produce elevated levels of a substance called adrenochrome, which is then medically extracted as a kind of drug that will promote the longevity of cabal members while also getting them high. Now adrenochrome is an actual bodily substance, but it can't be rendered for any such purpose, but in this sense, Q Anon hints at the specter of complete demonic social breakdown that would precede an apocalyptic moment in which all evil could be exposed and purified. And that's part of the dream, and that's where believe it or not Donald Trump comes in because central to QAnon faith is the prophecy that Trump through an event called the storm, which itself is the peak moment of something called the great awakening. You might've heard some of these phrases before we'll arrest and execute all cabal members and free all the children. Many of whom are thought to be imprisoned in places like the abandoned subway tunnels of New York.

Matthew: Now, if you have some history on board, this will sound familiar, except, maybe for the Donald Trump part, this stuff is all a rehash of medieval and perhaps older conspiracies about Jews controlling everything with a little bit of vampirism thrown in, and these ideas have fueled various moral panics and forms of manipulation and nationalism for a long time. The current fixation on pedophilia in particular recalls the recent unhealed wounds of the satanic panic of the late 1980s, but like all powerful conspiracy theories, it also spotlights unresolved facts. So the satanic panic was largely mythological in origin, but the Epstein network is not. And here's where we have to be careful with the authentic emotions at play. We live in a world of institutional abuses. And so somehow we have to address that without making up new institutions that we can't see, that we can't directly confront to be afraid of.

Matthew: Now, members of this cabal are said to be top Democrats like the Clintons and Hollywood celebrities and big media personalities, basically anyone that could be described as liberal and this reflects the political dexterity of the group and it's very real material goals and impacts. In the background here is that QAnon crystallized out of another conspiracy theory that actually brain wormed very effectively the 2016 election that was called pizza gate. And we'll link to that in the show notes. The main point here is that the primal power of QAnon is being concretely deployed now in favor of Trump's reelection with several queues, supporting congressional candidates now virtually assured of office in January, they're all running as Republicans. I think one's running independent. Now analysts are really struggling to define the movement. Many people are using terms from the cultic literature. Some are saying it's an emerging religion with its own rituals and priesthood.

Matthew: Others are pointing to the influences of Lark culture that would be live action role playing, but then also to the meme Wars that emerge from the 4chan, 8chan and now 8Kuhn image boards where Q was born and is still operating from. But almost everyone agrees that there's no completely explanatory framework. Yet one framework I think we have to be particularly careful with is discourse around mental illness. Buzzfeed recently announced that it was going to refer to QAnon as a group delusion. And there are two problems with that. At least, firstly, you can argue reasonably that Christianity is a group delusion or anything else like that. And then two it's ablest to suggest that mental health challenges are predictive of membership in a destructive organization.

Matthew: Last thing that I'll say is that, if QAnon is a religion, it might be the first gamified religion, which means that all participants through the power of the social media and digital platforms that they're using are empowered as interpreters of Q's mysticism. They become soldiers in his digital army and that's actually a phrase that's used and committed to. So Q influencers rise to prominence as profits, as translators, as artists, as orders, as wellness influencers, it allows every participant to be a hero. And as our friend on the podcast, Dr. Theo Wildcroft pointed out in a recent episode that we did this can really grant a sense of agency to people who have never had it.

Jeff: Yeah. Thank you, Matthew. That's incredibly helpful. And I guess I would follow up with a question or two around kind of the early Genesis of Q and its relationship to 4chan and Jim Watkins, just so people can understand the strange bedfellows that are being created here with these ideas that pull at the heartstrings of people around child sex trafficking, which is one of the primary recruitment concept for Q, but that a lot of this has its origins in 4chan and 8chan, and now 8Kuhn and Jim Watkins, can you describe what those message boards are. And what's some of the other content that's sort of existing within that ecosystem?

Matthew: Right. Well, I have to just say that I'm not an expert in the early Chan's and their development. I have broad strokes and we can give some really good resources in the show notes, but in general, the Chan boards are image boards that allow people to post bits of text and especially memes in anonymous format. Now the anonymity is kind of qualified by a series of codes that allows people to be identified or allows people to at least be verified as being unified identities. And that's how one of the posters named Q because there were many to begin with. As I understand it, there actually some competing voices in the beginning, one came to the prominence and the attention of posters and participants in the Chan boards. And eventually that began to move to Reddit and then to the larger platforms like Facebook and Instagram, now Reddit did a good job reportedly in, I think, 2018 closing down most Q related material on their site.

Matthew: And we'll probably talk about the power of deep platforming later, but that's been effective. But what we should understand is that, the Chan's are really kind of like the Petri dish of the most volatile racist alt right in cell stuff that the internet then goes on to either validate through mass distribution or, let's stay there. But it's really a breeding ground for the most radical elements of, and radicalizing elements of internet communication. Jim Watkins is the owner and founder of at least 8chan and now 8Kuhn. I believe he's probably involved in a 4chan as well going back, but he's an expatriate American currently living in the Philippines. And it's recently been suggested, I don't know if this is completely verified yet, but that he's the owner of the QMap site that actually posts the Q drops that the entire online community then goes on to quote unquote bake or interpret.

Derek: I- [crosstalk 00:19:50]sorry. I just think it's important to just give a little more context on that. Because 4chan was born out of Reddit. Reddit was originally an early attempt at becoming a restaurant delivery service that you can order on your phone, but like 20 years ago, and there was many iterations of Reddit before it became what it became, but what happened was the founders never really, very much like Facebook. They didn't expect what it would become. And it's not nearly as talked about as Facebook, but Reddit was a place where the vitalist parts of humanity came out. And when the founders decided to finally start cracking down, there was a crew that said, this is BS. We're going to go and create our own.

Derek: Then 4chan came and then when 4chan got shut down, then H&M came, and then 8Kuhn. And then there was a feedback loop where it went back onto Reddit, but Reddit had the wherewithal to shut it down, but it really is important to point out that these are the unregulated, darkest parts of the web, where Jeff, you had asked what goes on there, child pornography goes on there, murders go on there. People post pictures of people who just murdered. I mean the worst parts of humanity come out on these messages.

Jeff: Yeah. And I believe, and please correct me because you guys are the experts here, but that 8chan was eventually the platform because of the El Paso mass murder, He posted his manifesto on 8chan. And I believe Christ church, the mass murder in Christ church in New Zealand was similar just to give folks an indication on what's getting trafficked on these platforms. And I believe the initial Q drop, which I think is the terminology for how Q communicates centered around the idea that Hillary Clinton was going to be arrested in 2017. My assumption is that has some connection to the after mention pizza gate conspiracy theory, which evolved out of the hacking of the successful spearfishing hack by fancy bear, which I believe is a part of- I mean, this gets so deep, Russian intelligence that then got leaked onto WikiLeaks.

Jeff: And I actually spent three or four hours laboriously reading through the Podesta emails on WikiLeaks, searching for hot dogs and pizza, which of course were the kind of code words associated with young boys and young girls in this proposed theory, which has been debunked and disavowed even by the likes of Alex Jones and Fox News. But then this theory seemed to reemerge in a variety of ways with Q and in a strangely apolitical way on TikTok. So, I don't know if you guys have any more background or anything to add on that front, but that's been some of my understanding of this craziness

Derek: Effectively. Yes. You've got pretty much all of it, right. In terms of- I didn't know about Fancy Bear, but [crosstalk 00:23:39]

Jeff: There was Guccifer that also, I think, took some credit for the hacking.

Derek: Everyone knows Guccifer, but Fancy Bear? that's a deep research.

Jeff: Yeah. I think there was Cozy Bear was in that too at one point.

Derek: One thing that I would add was that, when you-

Matthew: Something that I would add is... When you said, Jeff, that various aspects of these stories have been debunked, my brain immediately says that that didn't matter. Nothing has really pushed back against the apparent factual basis of whatever these influencers are presenting. And I think that's because part of... Well, there's a number of reasons for that, but the two main ones would be that there's no... Part of the function of conspiracism is to jam signals and to create doubt in platforms to begin with. There's a very strong aspect of all of conspiratuality and QAnon content that is about the distrust of mainstream sources or institutional sources.

Matthew: In fact, one of the most common phrases that's repeated with regard to where one's content comes from in the QAnon community is Q writing perhaps once, perhaps many times, "no outside COMMS". Meaning, you're not to trust or to believe any source outside of this source, which of course is anonymous and coming through cryptic. So I'd say the second reason that the debunking doesn't work is that it really sets something off deep and primal within a whole bunch of people. I'm sorry that you spent all that time reading through the Podesta emails because the pizza and the hot dogs. Yeah, the pizza and the hotdogs, they triggered something symbolic.

Julian: Yeah. I think the one piece that you didn't say, Jeff, is that this pizza gate story, and this need to sort of turn the Podesta emails into a secret code that had to do with something absolutely diabolical led to someone going to that pizza place with a gun, believing that there were kids in the basement, demanding that the door be opened. Of course, there's no basement and there were no kids and this guy is now in jail.

Jeff: I think this ties into the question that I'd love to probe with you, Julian, because certainly everybody's locked down at home. Everybody's nonstop now on the internet. Everyone's civil liberties have been encroached upon, supposedly. There's a feeling of that. And now everyone is becoming a researcher and their own journalist at home. And then obviously using social media as their own versions of the New York times or whatever media platform that you might hold as an example. You can find legitimate reasons to be skeptical of, let's say, big pharma. You can find cases like Vioxx, which was a Merck drug that was approved by the FDA and subsequently killed 38,000 people through heart attacks. You can find examples like Oxycontin. You can point to Jeffrey Epstein and legitimate horrific events and occurrences in connection with him. How does one, in your opinion, differentiate and find distinction between sort of a healthy skepticism and theories that essentially have no basis in reality, or fact.

Julian: Well, the first thing to acknowledge right off the bat, which is often pointed out by conspiracies, right, is that there are real conspiracies. Those conspiracies are exposed based on strong evidence, based on good investigative journalism, based on arguments and explanations that hold up and make sense. With the pizza gate situation, you have this very dramatic, intense kind of alternate reality and set of accusations that are being made. They turned out not to be true, but that turning out not to be true, as Matthew was saying, doesn't change people's conviction that something like this must be true. And the theories just keep morphing and they keep moving on. There wasn't a pause where someone says, oh, we were wrong about this let's reconsider. So I think that points to something really important, which is that healthy skepticism is this desire to know what's true, as best as possible, and to change one's beliefs based on what you find out.

Julian: Whereas with conspiracy theories, conspiracists typically go through an indoctrination or a conversion process. And then these new beliefs are solidified as true, no matter what competing evidence, or no matter how the arguments are exposed as sort of being weak or lacking an appropriate reason. Skepticism really starts from a kind of humility, ironically enough, because skeptics often get accused of being arrogant, right. But it's the humility of knowing that we're all fallible, that human beings can be biased. We can be emotionally convinced. We can be overly loyal to group think. We can all be manipulated or tricked. This is just the nature of the human mind. It's not, a perfectly rational sort of way of processing information. So in healthy skepticism, I think it's really about checking for strong evidence, especially for claims that are extraordinary. Right? And being rigorous about saying, are there mistakes in reasoning here?

Julian: Are there logical, fallacies being committed? Does the argument make sense or does it just validate some kind of bias that I have? Conspiracy thinking really claims to be skeptical. So one of the things you'll see online a lot is that if you don't agree with some conspiracy tenant that's being advanced, it's because you're naive. It's because you're a shield for big pharma. It's because you've been indoctrinated by the Mockingbird media. It's because you're not willing to question things in a truly skeptical way. You haven't woken up, right. You haven't taken the red pill. But I think if we look more closely, conspiracism really falls prey to the exact mistakes that skepticism, in its healthy form, seeks to inoculate us against. So some of those mistakes are things like wild leaps in reasoning, rejection of any notion that there are facts that can be agreed upon that are knowable, right?

Julian: That things are actually true or false. And of course there are things that we don't know, but also being okay about that. Right? That there are standards of evidence we should all agree to. There is decent investigative journalism. And instead of this, conspiracy theories tend to brace more of a kind of paranoid or extreme set of claims that validate the three tenants, right? Nothing is an accident. Everything is connected. What was the third one? Everything has to happen. Everything has a purpose, right? So in a complex world, rather than seeing the complexity and saying, well, we know this, we don't know that. And some of this looks this way and some of it kind of looks that way and we're not sure. And there's a lot of things going on. We have to find some way to oversimplify it and connect it that can be really satisfying.

Julian: And through these ever morphing narratives that are often self-contradictory, there's this attempt to see the patterns. I think the other thing about a conspiracy theory that is most disturbing and sort of different from healthy skepticism is they tend to scapegoat groups or individuals who then get targeted with slander and hate, usually for completely unfounded reasons. So there isn't this thoroughgoing kind of rigor and this the sense of accountability of saying, well, wait, if we're going to say these things and go after these people, we need to really be sure.

Jeff: Yeah. I suppose that ties in, I suppose, to some of the phenomenon around cancel culture in its various forms. But certainly I see folks that have usually been in good public standing like Mr. Tom Hanks, or Oprah, being accused or associated with these theories of blood libel or being part of the cabal, attempting to instantiate some sort of new world order and part of the Gates Kadra or through immunization to install a microchip that will provide surveillance techniques. So...

Matthew: Yeah. It keeps morphing. Right. And so I think that's, that's a great example. Another one is 5G, right? In the beginning, it was 5G. Now we don't hear about 5G anymore. Early on, it was that Coronavirus was a hoax and it was really a cover so that Trump could arrest all of these pedophiles, including Oprah, including Tom Hanks and others. That turns out not to be the case. So you just keep moving on, right? And so you can slander people and accuse them of the most heinous crimes. And then when it turns out not to be true, there's a quick pivot to whatever the next idea is.

Derek: There's something that I'd like to add here, which is that the listeners, I'm sure, will be familiar with how this actually plays out in a conversation. One issue after another will be offered as evidence for some kind of nefarious and widespread conspiracy against all of humanity. But the issues are so disconnected and no person could be an expert enough in any one of them, let alone multiple issues to be able to say, with any certainty that, well, if it's not 5G, then it's the vaccine.

Derek: And if it's not vaccine, then it's big agriculture. And if it's not big agriculture, then it's adrenal Cromer or whatever. There's a skipping from subjects that indicates that the data itself is not really what's driving the conversation. I always love listening to Julian very carefully unpack what good, critical thinking and what good skepticism is. And I'm always also a little bit sad to know the effort that it takes to develop these skills is really often, I think, mismatched to the speed with which the non data, which has really emotional data, morphs and skids along.

Jeff: Yeah, you guys are all journalists. How would you describe, or bullet point a journalistic code of ethics? If you are truly a skeptical person that is dedicated to rigor, to finding fact where it exists, what are the basic principles that one should apply? And I think Julian, you sort of referenced one or two of them, but I think that would be helpful for people who are skeptical.

Derek: I started my career in journalism in the nineties, and there was a much different environment at that point that we were working in. And the general synopsis is that you are supposed to seek out as many sources as possible when looking at large scale stories. Now we should note that I've done a fair amount of research in the history of media. It's just something I love looking into. And there has never been a completely unbiased media ever in America anywhere. There has always been slants. And there's always been people who use it to game the system in that sense. So you have to understand that any story you approach is not just going to be unbiased; it's tainted through the lens of your own experiences and memories, and you are most likely going to have a starting point that is specific to you.

Derek: That said, it is completely possible to approach these with at least somewhat having open eyes, to conflicting information. While I was studying journalism, actually... My degree is in religion, and I was the religion columnist at Rutgers for a few years while I was in school. And then I continued from there. What Julian referenced before about the willingness to change your mind is very, very important in journalism and beyond. I had a belief in some sort of God head for a while. And then I started studying neuroscience and evolutionary biology. And then I changed my mind. I didn't think the evidence was strong enough to say that there was something, some sort of God figure.

Derek: That's not an easy decision to make, but it's an example of what happens when you look at one field, religion, but if you want to study religion, you have to study economics, you have to study cultural theory. There are so many layers, history, of course. And so that's really what is challenging about this. You can never just attack any subject from that discipline alone. In fact, it's been shown that some of the best, the Nobel prize winners and really thoughtful people are multidisciplinary in their approach to things. And we don't really see a lot of evidence of that happening broadly right now. But it's very, very valuable.

Matthew: What we also don't see, and I can just speak as somebody who's written for a long time in a freelance capacity, we don't see the actual process. And I think it might be worth just describing a little bit. I've got actually two magazine features dropping next week. At the same time. One has been in production for almost two years and the other one has unfolded over the last four months or so. The one that is coming out with The Walrus is about the Shambala international community. It's taken so long because I'm trying to give an overview of the history of institutional abuse in this new religion. One of the reasons that it's taken so long is that you need as many sources as possible, but if somebody is making a claim about something that's happened and you can't get the perpetrator to respond, or let's say that they've died, you need documentation, you need corroborating witnesses.

Matthew: You need your corroborating witnesses who are able to say yes, this person told me that this thing happened to them. And they told it to me close to the time that it happened. And my memory of it lines up with their memory of it. And so on. That corroborating witness, shouldn't be a family member. I mean, the rules just go on and on, and really give journalists who are working with some kind of integrity a lot of really strict guidelines about the claims that are made, because in a world of responsibility, you print something incorrectly and you not only ruin somebody's life, but you're also sued.

Jeff: Yeah. And you're bound by core agenda in that particular regard as an ethic to publish a correction, if you're reputable of anything.

Matthew: Yeah, totally. When people talk about investigative journalists being biased, or what have you, there's going to be a spectrum of integrity within the industry, as with any industry. But I just wish that more people would know what it's like to have to footnote every single sentence in a 7,000 word feature, sometimes with two citations, that then a fact checker takes a month to plow through sentence by sentence and make sure that you've not made anything up. That's how it's supposed to work. We don't see that it's working that way in many circumstances. And certainly with the daily news cycle, there's a lot of shortcuts that are taken. But this notion that, quote unquote, "the narrative" somehow supersedes reporting... It's just not true. People are doing actual reporting. It's happening.

Julian: It's the problem of overgeneralization, right? If you can name a few instances in which there has been shoddy journalism, or people have been corrupt, and this holds for other fields as well, then this can be overgeneralized to say that the entire field is like that. Meanwhile, there are thousands and thousands of journalists who are doing really good work. And the idea that all of journalism could be marching in lockstep to try to perpetuate some narrative is just, it's like, "really?"

Jeff: One of the most frustrating things about this particular dimension of this madness, aside from the fact that people keep telling me to do my research and link out to the COBOL movies on YouTube as their primary source, is the sort of pan criticism of mainstream media, particularly around the topic of child sex trafficking, because that it's a topic that I've felt compelled to learn about because it's obviously been the flag that this movement is waving and where I have learned the most about it. Ironically, for those folks that are trashing the mainstream media, is in the New York times. And there's a gentleman over there named Gabriel Dance who runs a small investigative journalism team that has been investigating child sex trafficking, child pornography, child sexual abuse for two years almost. And they are engaged in the most important work and traumatic work.

Jeff: They have no journalistic privilege. So if they actually see a piece of child pornography on the internet, they could face criminal penalty for that. Imagine rooting out this depravity every day of your life, eight hours a day, the trauma and the commitment that these folks are undergoing as a public service to root out this problem, where it exists, to set up an anonymous, hot hotline, to work with Nick, to work closely with the FBI. I mean, this is some of the most important journalistic work going on around this topic. And the New York times is perhaps in the crosshairs of this conspiracy movement every day as the evil media villain while they're trumpeting this great cause. And, to me, it's the distillation of hypocrisy and extremely frustrating,

BREAK

Derek: You know, Ben Shapiro gets ridiculous times more shares on social media than New York Times. There is a reporter who's covering daily, showing the Facebook shares, and you repeatedly see Fox, Ben Shapiro, all these things, and you don't see the New York Times in this top 10. And that really is a problem because you're right. One argument that I've made on conspirituality before is there is no such thing as the mainstream media. That itself is an illusion. First of all, media companies are competing in a market economy. They're all trying to get clicks and get people. So they're not all organizing behind the scenes. Now there is lazy journalism where some outlets will just take what other outlets are doing and run with it. I mean, that is a substantial problem. And there are certain levels of group think that do happen in media, just like everywhere else. But that doesn't mean that organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post, Buzzfeed, pro Publica, they're doing some of the most important work right now. And their share count on social media is nothing like a troll like Ben Shapiro, who can just go on and say whatever he wants, and then people take it as truth. And that is one of the real failures of this transition from print journalism into social media.

Matthew: Yeah. There's this weird set of factors that come together when you go from print journalism, and the way that we used to consume news, into the 24 hour news cycle, right? Where standards go down because the pressure to continuously be coming up with stuff and getting

Matthew: And because the pressure to continuously be coming up with stuff and getting eyeballs on the screen intensifies. Then to social media and I feel like unintentionally, there's this intersection with populism and anti-intellectualism and a distrust of experts where now everyone's the expert, everyone's doing their research, everyone's a citizen journalist and people are in these little enclaves and echo chambers where very, bad sourcing of facts and evidence is happening.

Jeff: Yeah. But however back to the wellness and spiritual communities for a second and maybe you could give some color here around some of the susceptibility of that community to some of these ideas. And I often linger around the Anti-Vax movement, but I think that kind of ties back to a lot of wellness folks that have a sense of sanctity about their own bodies and their own immune system. Certainly we see a lot of influencers talking about that, which then has led to some of this for showing. So I wonder if you guys could unpack a little bit of that phenomena of why wellness folks seem to be so susceptible to something like this.

Matthew: I just wanted to pick up, you said that there's been a fascination amongst wellness influencers and their audiences with the sacredness of the immune system as a kind of rallying cry against the need for public health measures, a rallying cry against the data of epidemiologists. And it's a really key phrase that I think we can focus on because when I hear the immune system elevated to this kind of uber protective concept, what I really hear is, or what I also hear, rather, especially within the context of spirituality movements is something like a description of the soul. If you switch out immune system for soul in the phrasing, you get things like, "My soul is self-sufficient and it learns and it is one with the environment and with my community and it's resilient and it needs no supplementation."

Matthew: Of course taking supplements too, so that's an aside, but it's [crosstalk 00:51:05] So yeah, there's so many little ideas that thread together here. There's the notion that it is self-sufficient and that's where we get the word sovereign or somehow regally and independently alone and powerful. So there's a description of the self there that's very aspirational, which meshes with the aspirational marketing of wellness in general. The entire industry for the last 4 years has been selling the vision of a kind of ultimately actualized self. So it's like the wellness discourse has this thread within it that is fiercely independent, it's individualistic and this is all sort of cooking up within, I just want to remark that I'm joining this call from Canada.

Matthew: It's cooked in the stew of American alt-health libertarianism, which exists in part because there's no meaningful socialized medicine. So one of the things that is implied by people going on about their holy and strong immune system is that they can overcome threats all on their own, but I'm here to tell you that the entire American public, I think, has been told that they just simply have to do that anyway, because there's nobody to take care of them really. And so there's this intersection between religious ideas of internal purity and safety, but then also the political and economic context of, "Well, there's no such thing as the common good. There's no such thing as socialized medicine. We're not therefore going to trust public health because we associate medicine with predatory insurance companies and so on."

Matthew: So, yeah. My holy immune system becomes this sort of launch point for thinking of the atomized self as being beyond any kind of social responsibility, but also built beyond any kind of social danger. And then of course there's certain people who can afford to have that point of view and there's a lot of people who can't afford to have that point of view.

Derek: There was a study that was done a number of years ago that I've always found fascinating and it actually opened my eyes to something that Matthew was talking about and it was, they asked American and Japanese drivers the same question, and that is, "You're waiting at a light and your light turns green and you see someone rush through to beat a red light and they crossed the red light." And American drivers thought almost all of them, "Oh, what a jerk? He just cares about himself and he's just trying to game the system." Whereas Japanese drivers thought, "Wow, that person's in a hurry. They must have an emergency. I hope everything is okay." And that really brings into what my fascination with collectivist versus individualist cultures. And so much of what Matthew just referenced in this whole thing has to do with the fact that we live in a hyper individualist culture where you are expected to be an island on your own when really Buddha said long time ago that the self is an illusion and everything is interconnected, but modern neuroscience research backs that up.

Derek: There is no self without the others and if you don't understand that interdependence and relationship that we have, your immune system, you don't have an immune system. We have a collective immune system cause we're always trading bacteria. So the idea, and we've talked about this a lot of sovereignty is part of the illusion that we have. And it's also why we see this increase in rates and anxiety and depression in America out matching any other country on earth.

Derek: Let's just remember too, that sovereignty is actually has some racist baggage with it. The term first becomes popular in the 1970s during white nationalists movements, especially throughout the Midwest. One of the things that we often, that happens in our own social media feeds is that somebody will say, Hey, I use that word. That's a really, that's a really good word. I love the, the, the principle of sovereignty and, and my response is I appreciate that. And it might be time to, to, to find another word because it's, it's now dog whistling for a whole bunch of meanings that you, you may not intend. Yeah, there, there are so many factors here. And this idea of being in a hyper individualist society, where then the way that popular spirituality ends up taking shape over several decades is this hyper-focus on, I am going to become enlightened.

Derek:

I am going to become in a way kind of immune to the slings and arrows of life and an invulnerable kind of old, powerful. I think of the word sovereign as a kind of monarchical throwback, right? That somehow I will be all powerful in my domain. And that's what spiritual accomplishment really is. And then there's the other thing which, which you actually touched on really beautifully yesterday. Matthew is this romanticism of nature, right? And this idea that we can find ways to just live in harmony with nature and just use natural means of being healthy. So having a strong immune system will, you don't need a vaccine if you have a strong immune system. And how do you have a strong immune system you live in harmony with nature, you have this romantic kind of plugging into some earlier time in which, in which human beings were sovereign, right.

Derek:

In which we just, we didn't need chemicals, as that kind of misnomer. And then there's this third piece here, which being around the yoga and wellness community for the last 20 years or more, I've seen this a lot. And this concept has been very helpful for me. This insight that comes from John Welwood, who's a transpersonal psychologist, and it's the concept of spiritual bypass. And it ties into everything we've just been, we've just been talking about, which is, spiritual bypass is essentially, he started to observe in the communities that he was in a tendency to use spiritual beliefs or spiritual experiences to try to avoid or bypass or do what he sometimes refers to as an end run around the difficulties of being human. So around vulnerability, trauma, difficult emotions, existential realities, politics, oppression, you name it, any number of things can be what we are seeking to avoid and bypass by going straight to the higher truth.

Derek:

Part of this spiritual bypass tendency, I think can be wanting to find confirmation for the higher truth through patterns and through seeking patterns that confirm and validate that are somehow encoded into everyday experience from the universe to show that actually everything is okay, everything is perfect. And I am this sovereign, all powerful being who can create reality with my mind. And so there's interesting research too, that shows that, and there may be a genetic component here where people who have a type of brain that tends to produce more, dopamine tend to be more susceptible to seeing patterns where in fact, there are no patterns and you can actually give people who don't have that temperament dopamine under laboratory conditions. And they will start to see patterns in the material that you show them that aren't there in the first place. And so I think that's an interesting piece to where the additional piece of that's important is that people who have this tendency to see more patterns and to see patterns that are not there will have that tendency amplified when under severe stress.

Derek:

So you take the severe stress of the time that we're under, all of this uncertainty, all of the ways that our unresolved emotions and traumas are probably being, being pushed on by what's happening right now. And if you have this tendency to see patterns that would have meant you were drawn to New Age ideas and beliefs about how reality functions, I think in a way there's a strong explanatory power for why people with those yoga New Age type belief systems would find themselves vulnerable to other types of pattern recognition, IEQ Anon and other conspiracies.

Jeff:

Yeah, I suppose you could also attribute some of the proclivity for seekers to constantly be looking for the next prophecy or the next guru to kind of instill that same quest in queue. But I suppose also the sense of community that it provides people in an otherwise, as you say, very, very individualistic time. And it's funny that, you bring up this notion of kind of the sanctification of the individual, particularly in the United States and sort of this, the picture of sort of the rugged cowboy on a horse, the Marlboro man, or kind of our cutthroat capitalism. And I remember traveling to Japan quite a bit when I was in the music industry in the late nineties and early two thousands. And that was my first exposure, really, to people wearing masks in public. And I was completely flummoxed by it.

Jeff:

I mean, I think I probably had seen it in New York that, that Asian, I would see Asian people adopting that practice in New York on the subways, but I never maybe fully computed it. But when I was in Japan and walking around the streets of Tokyo, there, there were people wearing masks. And of course I asked our guide like, Hey, what's up with that? And, they explain the obvious. It's like, okay, well that person might have a cold. And they're taking some level of precaution to not infect other people around, which I suppose is you'd never see that in the United States. Of course now that's coming to full stark political relief that it's created, like this almost ridiculous chasm of around political identity, but just that very basic notion that I might slightly inconvenience myself because I actually put some degree of primacy on the collective good over my wellbeing. It's just seems very foreign to us. Go ahead, Derek.

Derek:

That's one of the first off shout out Velour records. That's how I, first knew of you and your brother was soul life. But with that, one of most frustrating aspects of this entire year in America is having watched and been in like Julian, like Matthew and yoga for over 20 years, having watched and been in so many thousands of classes where teachers say love and lay to all beings, empathy, compassion, et cetera, et cetera. And when they actually hit a point where they had to put that practice into action, watching them just get, so self-involved watching all of the empathy.

Derek:

We had an episode on this, I'm a cancer survivor. Everyone here has dealt with different issues. I have an immune problem. That's genetic with low white blood cell count. I would rather not get this virus. I'd probably be okay, I'm 45. I take care of myself really well, but we don't know. We don't know all the ramifications of this virus. I'd rather not get it. And the fact that we can go from a whole segment of this wellness industry who espouse all of these ideas about love and compassion and empathy. And then all of a sudden they're like, well, you were obese. You kind of deserved it. You brought it up by yourself. It's really, disgusting.

Matthew:

One thing that I'd like to add about the masks is an angle that I don't see reflected on much in order for the anti masker to change their position, they would have to adopt the idea they'd really have to entertain the possibility that they themselves are sick, that they themselves might be contagious. And that really contradicts the continued emphasis on my Holy immune system. I'm fine. One of the things about a wellness culture is that because it functions in consumer capitalism, it always has to present itself in a certain way. It always has to present itself as being triumphant. It's intensely aspirational that way. And as soon as you put on a mask, you are saying, perhaps there's something about me that I don't know. And I think that is coordinated with a whole bunch of other ways in which people who get indoctrinated into these ways of seeing end up having to project their internal fears outwards, right?

Matthew:

I think it's intolerable for many people to think, Oh, there's something about me that I don't understand. In fact, in my own health crisis, around deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, I was so deeply enmeshed in yoga and Ayurveda at the time that it didn't make sense to me that I wasn't able to self diagnose. It didn't make sense to me that like, [crosstalk 01:05:45] My intuition was telling me that I was okay, I'm moreover, it's like the thing that you would do an IRA Veda for, for, for a blood clot would be to, apply certain bitter herbs. Well, the funny thing is that a lot of bitter herbs and especially the leafy green vegetables that are recommended for cleansing obstructions in the blood are actually really high in vitamin K, which is exactly what you don't want.

Matthew:

If you have a clotting issue. And so, it's like I had this intuitive, Oh, I know myself better than this. I remember there was a lot of pain, obviously swelling and pain in my calf. And I remember being in the sauna and, stretching it and then massaging it and thinking literally that there's a blockage and energy that I can work out. And I remember showing the internist at emergency. Yeah. The pain's right here. And I started to put my thumbs in it to give it a nice, good massage. And he said, do not do that. Have you been doing that? You go to giving yourself a stroke. I was like, okay. Right. All right. I'm I am not as a wellness educated as I thought I was. Okay. You're not as spiritual as you thought, that's it. I was too spiritual for my own good.

Derek:

Right. I'd have to look at why you manifested that problem too.

Matthew:

Right. Yeah. But I mean, it's really like, like we're talking about practices and etiologies that really say to the consumer, you can know yourself and you can know yourself. And, and so people become very protective of that idea and that probably plays into anti-intellectualism and the rejection of expertise, people within wellness really don't want the outsider saying actually what seems to be at issue here is X, Y, and Z. No, outside comes. Yeah. And you could be, you could be suffering from something without knowing it, without having believed that you could be therefore quote unquote, manifesting it. Right. It could be beyond your control. You could be vulnerable to it. And your intuitive, all knowing sovereign body wisdom could not have actually let your brain know what was going on.

Jeff: Yeah, until you're dying.

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Jeff: To unpack a couple other topics and, respect everybody is scheduled. There's so much that we could talk about, from some of the recruitment techniques to the trope has a Lightworker trope and everywhere in between. But one of the things I've really admired about your guys work is that you're actually cutting to point to valid concerns within some of these overarching theories and concepts. One of which is child sex trafficking. And you guys did a great episode on that. So can you describe a little bit of how this issue is being used to fear monger and recruit? I would say mostly women into this movement, and then through the research and interviews that you guys have done, maybe talk a little bit about where this problem largely exists and what people can do if they really care about it. And of course, there's every reason to care about it.

Matthew: Derek can probably point us to the interview that he did with Reagan Williams. But what I wanted to just say first is that I haven't heard anybody yet say, as they're looking at real life rallies and protests that have been unfolding over the last couple of weekends, the save the children tagged protests, which are really soft Q and on or Q and on adjacent events. I haven't heard anybody suggest that the mostly women and some men who are marching and holding signs and who represent a huge range of cultural diversity and seem to come from a lot of different economic backgrounds. This is not a white male movement anymore. For sure. I haven't heard anybody say, "You know what? I'm going to be really gentle with my understanding of these people, because it's quite possible that they are a sexual abuse survivors themselves, and they have not been listened to.

Matthew: They have been, they are aware that abuse never happens between an isolated perpetrator and an isolated victim, that there are always bystanders. There are always people who are complicit, that that violence is, is networked and it's familiar. And one of the things I've learned from, I mentioned her before, Dr. Wildcroft a good friend of mine is that trauma survivors know that violence is networked in these ways. And so when a language develops that allows them not just to feel as though their story is shared and communicable, but also allows them a certain amount of agency with regard to addressing it. It makes them gives them a heroic role of researcher, right? Because do your research means so many things, it means feel this thing with me, it also means look into yourself. And so, there's a lot of care that we need to take. I think as we encounter people who are both influenced by this material could be manipulating it.

Matthew: ... just to buy this material. Could be manipulating it, but definitely for them, it's striking a deep cord.

Julian: One thing Reagan pointed out... Reagan is a friend of mine who runs an organization, a nonprofit, that helps rehabilitate foster youth through the arts. She has worked in foster care for a long time. A few of the children, teenagers she works with, are sex abuse survivors. They already have a deep distrust of institutions and people, in general. So when they see QAnon literature going out about this distrust, they are actually getting indoctrinated into this ideology, which is extremely dangerous.

Julian: I don't think that the sort of liberal, or someone who just comes across this and thinks, "Oh my God, this is so bad," and goes to a rally and starts protesting, understands the extra damage they're doing to actual trafficking victims. If you see Episode 12 of Conspirituality, in the show notes, Reagan gave me a list of 10 organizations that you can donate to. So I'll point people there, if they really want to help out actual victims. But maybe Julian wants to talk a little about the indoctrination process.

Julian: Oh, I feel like it's so appalling, because there's this incredible exploitation of a topic that is so egregious and so painful, and that resonates so deeply for so many people. I think the only observation I was leaning forward with was that, and just that efforts against sexual abuse and efforts against sex trafficking have been going on for a long time. Though the Q people want to frame it as if Trump is the big sort of savior, riding in and on the white horse, on this issue, it's all just spin. It's all just exploitation of something in a really heinous way.

Julian: At the beginning of his term, he actually defunded. He reduced funding to a lot of the efforts that Obama had really stepped forward on and stepped up. It's only since, I think, people in his administration have realized that, "Oh, this is part of the Q narrative of how they're trying to create a groundswell of people, who might not otherwise be vulnerable to this." We're like, "Of course. Save the children." It's only since then, that they've been very public about, "Oh, we're allocating all of this money to sex trafficking." It's just disgusting.

Jeff: Yeah. I found a very good resource at Villanova Law School is doing. They have a focus, an initiative, around children's sexual exploitation. They are very, very critical of the QAnon movement, as distracting people from where the problem truly exists, and in many ways, clogging up hotlines and being a force that might be considered antithetical to progress. I just feel this is a topic that warrants an episode, or many episodes. Just because I do think that at some point, it's important for people to actually understand what trafficking really is and all of its different expressions.

Jeff: Because most kids are trafficked without ever leaving their home. Most of it happened, honestly, on social media, on Facebook, through practices known as sexploitation or sextortion, which are these heinous techniques that are employed by men, which I'll probably not go into in great depth here. I just can't stress enough for people, who really care about this issue, to really spend the time understanding where it really exists.

Matthew: One thing that I would add is on the theme of close-to-home versus projection, is that the statistic that is continually paraded about within conspirituality and QAnon discourse. There's this continuum between them, is that 800,000 children per year are trafficked in the United States. In the more extreme examples, people will claim that those children never return home. That's totally untrue. The vast majority do. But the statistic is usually trotted out to show or to suggest that there's a widespread epidemic of stranger danger violence.

Matthew: And one of the things, when you dig down into that statistic, which comes from a nonprofit that studies these things, is that only 115 of those 800,000 cases actually involve stranger abduction or stranger violence. And what does that mean? It means that the rest of those incidences all happened within family networks. Of course, that is super difficult for any society to look at.

Matthew: Those themes drove some of the excesses of the satanic panic in the 1980s and '90s, which was all focused on daycare centers. Because, of course, it wasn't parents abusing their children. It had to be these caregivers who were now in charge of things, because we all had to go back to work. So there's always this externalization of difficult and unresolved things that are at play and that become so compelling in the public sphere when something like QAnon explodes.

Jeff: There are two things, I just want to point out about that. One is, notice the pivot. Right? The pivot goes from something like Pizzagate, which we know has its roots in the satanic panic. In the sense that the fabric of America's moral family values is being ripped apart because women are going back to work and sending their kids to daycare. It must be satanic ritual abuse. It can't just be your everyday sort of nasty pedophilia that happens in real life.

Jeff: And there's that. But then there's the other piece, which is that we are then put in the very awkward position of having to be super careful about not seeming like we're minimizing something terrible, by looking at the data more honestly.

Julian: Right.

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah.

Matthew: That flip to the satanic is really important as well, because it almost locks it in, in kind of a projective fantasy. It can't be Christian families that are doing this. It can't be Jewish families that are doing this. It can't be the families that we know. It has to be people who have completely overturned their values and have completely abandoned the world of reason. It can't be us.

Jeff: Yeah. Ironically, the largest chronicled abuse has happened within the Catholic church.

Matthew: Absolutely.

Julian: Hello.

Jeff: Yeah. In the remaining time that we have, I'd love to open up a discussion around how we address friends, colleagues, family that are propagating misinformation or disinformation, or in some cases just really suffering themselves. You know, seeking out spiritual prophecy or companionship, and community inside QAnon. What are the best ways to, I suppose, confront this scourge?

Matthew: I'll reference my interview with Imran Khan, who runs the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

Julian: It's Ahmed. It's Ahmed. Sorry. Yeah. Yeah. It was my mistake there.

Matthew: Okay. I'm reading [crosstalk 00:8:26] Pakistan.

Jeff: Right.

Matthew: So the interview was fantastic, but he... Thanks, Julian.

Jeff: But this is core agenda in real time, right here. Right?

Julian: Imran Ahmed.

Matthew: Right. Right. Yes. I talked to him. I should have remembered that. So being influenced by Julian's secret notes, his Center produced a very important anti-vaccination report and showed how predominantly Facebook, but also YouTube and Instagram, have profited to the tune of almost $1 billion from anti-vax groups, by advertisers targeting of those individuals. As well as the ad buys that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s organization, for example, takes out on Facebook to promote his work.

Matthew: It really comes down to the algorithms. If I go onto an anti-vaxxers, or a QAnon person's feed, and I try to combat them, I am boosting their algorithm, and I am there for making their content more valuable. So I have completely stopped doing that. When people engage with me about these things, I do not reply, if they're trolling, and I do not go onto other pages.

Matthew: People will come onto my page, where I'm trying to spread credible information and troll me, or sometimes have an honest debate. They are boosting my signal. So the best thing that you can do is to share good, credible, honest information, period. But if you are going onto your friend's page, who's going down the QAnon rabbit hole, and you're trying to bring them back, you are only going to boost their signal. The best thing, if you actually care about this person, is to contact them privately and try to have a discussion, or just to ignore, or report, if you think that information is actually dangerous.

Jeff: I would just like to point out that that split between online, back and forth, conversational hygiene, and what you do in real life, really points to something important that we've brought up a number of times in the podcast, which is that... The traditional advice for people recovering from high demand groups, or indoctrination, or cultic environments, always involves the reestablishment and repair of secure attached relationships. The thing that you instinctually would do when you see a friend begin to post fever dreams, reaching out to them, and saying, "How are you doing? Are you okay? It sounds like you're really scared about something." Or, "Yeah, I feel scared, too."

Jeff: All of that work, that emotional attunement that you would do, if it takes place online, it plays into the content algorithms. If it takes place in real life, then you have the chance at providing that person with an actual safe haven, instead of a false safe haven, which is what they've found in the cultic dynamic that they're embroiled in. And so there's this really sort of awful conundrum that we have, which is we are connected through social media platforms. They are exploiting our attention and our relationships. They're also exploiting our concerns with inflammatory content. But worse than all of that, they are exploiting our needs to repair and to forgive each other and to continue to be in community. Because as we try to repair online, we simply extend the content.

Jeff: The thing that you can do for the friend, is you can be the best friend that you can be. Do not argue with them. Do not tell them that they're stupid. Ask them for the qualities of their experience that are most valuable to them, reflect that. Establish trust, first and foremost. You can get into the data a little bit later. The first thing that you can do is to reestablish a kind of core trusting connection. You've actually done what QAnon can't do, which is provide a kind of emotional security.

Jeff: What QAnon is designed to do, like most cults, is to confuse terror with love and to keep people in a state of hyper-arousal, where they feel that their survival basically depends upon towing a particular line and maintaining a particular experience.

Julian: Yeah. I love that. I loved your interview with Steve Hassan, if I'm getting his name right.

Jeff: Yeah. who is one of the main cult experts that we've had, who wrote this book called, Cult of Trump. And just this idea that if you can maintain a consistent... This notion of healthy attachment, a consistent empathic connection with someone who you really care about, as they go through whatever cycle they're going through. And know that it might take a long time, and that you're not going to get instant gratification. You're not going to just get through to them or de-convert them in a very short period.

Matthew: Right.

Julian: But if you can maintain that relational connection and empathy, that's going to be something that you come back to. Because as, as you're saying so beautifully, Matthew, that's what they're really trying to find through these other means.

Matthew: And it takes so much longer than the radicalization process, and that makes it feel hopeless, I think. I think when we actually look at the time that it takes to reestablish, in real life, solid connections with people who are suffering, we might get overwhelmed with this sense of, "Oh, well, how could I do that with everybody, that I know that is in trouble this way?" You might not be able to. This is where, I think, we've discussed on the podcast, the Bhagavad Gita is actually really instructive here. That you don't do the right thing because you're going to win. You do the right thing, because you were born to do it, and it's the right thing to do. And it feels good when you do it. It feels good when you do it.

Julian: Yeah. I agree. It's a beautiful sentiment. I think it does actually cut to the heart of the best parts of the wellness community, particularly teachers. Certainly, we see kind of in the commodified yoga sphere, of which I will admittedly take some responsibility. But we see the teacher in front of 10,000 people. Honestly, the most important work done within the spiritual and wellbeing space is this very intimate one-on-one work. I've taken that to heart over the last number of months, and have put aside time in my schedule to have 60- to 90-minute conversations with people that I don't know, that I might disagree with in some fashion. Almost always, those conversations end with some kind of virtual hug, and some tears, and a friendship.

Julian: I really do encourage people to really take that time, to make that in real life connection. I suppose on the same note, to realize that we are existing on social media as the product, itself. Our ability to be influenced in our behaviors, and thoughts and ideologies is the product, that they're leveraging. That information is being weaponized in order to do just that very thing. To influence the way that we think and behave. It is a very dangerous notion and a global psychological experiment to which we have not consented.

Julian: That might be the greatest conspiracy. So in summation, and I'm so appreciative of you guys and the work that you're doing on the spirituality podcast and all the work that you guys are doing individually, in your own careers writing, and as thought leaders, and as folks really devoted to rigorous information, but also a tremendous amount of kindness and empathy. So I just thought if you guys have anything anything optimistic that you could leave the listeners with today to kind of round this up and knowing that this will be a conversation that we will continue to have.

Matthew: I'll just say, as a fan of history, humans have endured a lot worse than this, and come out through the other side. I know that doesn't sound overly optimistic, but it does give me some grounding to remember that there have been atrocities far worse than what's happened. But it really does, to take a term that's popular in the community, it really does take people doing the work and going out supporting organizations and candidates that will help to reverse course and, of course, to actually vote. Because that is a systemic problem that we face. So we do have the power in our hands to change things, but that we do have to rely on action right now.

Julian: I would say, stay true to your values and to what I sort of list is my conviction that, that reality exists and truth matters. I think, know that, like all prophetic movements, this thing has to collapse upon itself at some point. We don't know exactly how that's going to play out, but eventually reality intrudes, because it always has the last word.

Matthew: And hopefully, we will be there with some kind of, or some of us will be there, with some kind of equanimity to restore bonds. That's my goal, at this point. I don't see a lot of... It's hard to see the ray of sunshine, except almost internally with a kind of conviction that, well, all of this stuff has been laid bare, and now we can actually deal with it, and we can find out where our values lie. And also, we can figure out what lasting relationships actually mean. And hopefully that, in contrast with what we find in the wellness world, those relationships will be a little bit more grounded, a little bit more local, and a little bit more resilient.

Jeff: Yeah. Beautiful. Well, through the marketplace of ideas, my great hope is that truth can cream to the top. And you guys certainly are at the vanguard of holding those conversations. So thank you, guys. And to be continued.

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